Published August 26, 2002
NEW YORK – During a typical day at the office, many of us engage in something that resembles the following conversation:
"Suzy's been flirting with the boss." "You think? Well, come to think of it, the other day I noticed them talking ...."
But according to the new book Gossip: Ten Pathways to Eliminate It From Your Life and Transform Your Soul, by Lori Palatnik with Bob Burg, when you initiate gossip or even partake in it, you're actually "murdering" three people: yourself, the person you're talking to and the person you're dishing about.
"The person speaking is killed in the eyes of all those who hear. … Are you the type of person that people will come to and entrust their lives with? Respect? No," Palatnik says in her book. "Clearly we understand killing the reputation of someone not there. And the one who is killed most of all is the listener, because only the listener has the power to stop it in its tracks."
Not everyone believes such dire consequences follow a bit of innocent gossip. Upon finding the Bible-influenced book on her desk, syndicated gossip writer Liz Smith issued a rebuttal in her column.
"Those who 'speak evil' will develop skin lesions similar to leprosy, according to the Good Book. Yikes! Well, although I have the occasional itch, I hope I'm not en route to leprosy. I try to behave reasonably, in print and out."
But Bob Burg, a self-proclaimed former blabbermouth and contributor to Gossip, said even dishing about celebrities can be damaging to people's lives.
"We rip apart Tom and Nicole's marriage and then we think it's OK to talk about our married friends," he said.
Burg, now five years reformed, said he stopped "speaking evil" because he wanted to be described as "never having a bad word to say about anybody."
"My life is so much happier now. My relationships in every area are richer and less stressful. It's a cleaner feeling not to gossip and to be known for that," Burg told Foxnews.com.
But even Burg is not completely chatter-free -- and that's OK, according to the book.
"Everyone makes mistakes. If you've spoken badly about someone, stop, regret, say you're sorry and plan so it won't happen again," the book instructs.
However, the book is not so much about repenting for gossip as it is about preventing it. One way to do this is to play the "reverse gossip game," Burg suggested.
"When at a loss for what to talk about, share the good news about people," he said.
Just don't tell yourself that "everyone does it" or "everyone's going to find out anyway," Palatnik warns.
"Remember when we rationalize, we tell ourselves 'rational lies,'" she said.
Palatnik, a frequent writer on Jewish topics, was inspired to write Gossip when she met Burg.
"He told me how learning about the laws of speech founded in Biblical tradition changed his life," she writes in the preface to her book.
Palatnik also attempts to find the motives behind gossip.
"A psychologist I know once pointed out that speaking badly about people is a form of projection. What you don't like about yourself, you tend to point out in others. Be aware of this, and soon what you personally need to work on will become clear."
Oregon psychologist Marilyn Sorensen agreed that trash-talk is often a pleasure for people dissatisfied with their own lives.
"Look at the way people thrive on the downfall of Martha Stewart and the Winona Ryder shoplifting case," Sorensen said. "Instead of finding solutions to their own problems, people find joy in criticizing others."
But Richard Johnson, editor of the popular New York Post gossip sheet "Page Six," defended his profession.
"We are providing an incredible service for people. In huge cities where people don't even know their own neighbors, they do know Tom and Nicole," he said. "It gives them something to talk about."